Thursday, November 19, 2015

When Actions Really Do Speak Louder

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our mutual frustration with certain people who seemed to lack integrity. We both have been dealing with various situations where people in positions of power have manipulated other individuals for selfish personal gain. It stirred a deep level of anger in us both, as we felt the need to protect those who were being manipulated but we were essentially helpless. All the way home, I was talking to God about the situations; voicing my frustration and my desire to treat people with dignity and love and that I might strive towards integrity. God reminded me of one of my favorite books in His word: Esther. So, tonight, while I was watching my night school students take their final exam, I reread the entire book, with the focus of how it applies to my situation.


The 10 chapter book of Esther unpacks such an interesting story, that if you have not read it, you should! Trivia side note: It is the only book in the Bible that does not ever mention God directly or any of the names that are used for God throughout the scriptures. And yet, it is included in our Bible. That should raise some interest right there. I believe it is included in the God-breathed Word to show that sometimes the actions of His followers are way more impactful than any words and those actions point to God without ever mentioning His name; that we can make a difference by doing what we are called to do and what is right even when people do not realize who has called us to integrity. 

So here is a synopsis of Esther, (but I really do think you should read it yourself). There was this King Ahasuerus (most likely the King Xerxes that you might have heard about in history) who reigned over the Persian Empire. One night after a six month party, the king became angry at the girl who was his queen because she would not prance around in front of him and all his drunken men naked (wearing only her crown) so he subsequently banished her from the kingdom. Since he didn't have a queen now, he decided to hold a special beauty pageant to find one. So all these girls from his kingdom were gathered and given all kinds of beauty treatments, etc. (remember- this is just my summary and thoughts)

Each girl had a special year to be pampered and then they were presented to the king and hopefully he would really like one of them.
Now you have to understand there are some Jews in this Persian Empire that were taken when their cities were conquered, but they were not slaves, they had basically chosen to just stay in that land instead of returning to their homeland. One of these Jews was a man named Mordecai and he had a niece that he had adopted as his daughter because her parents had been killed. She was very beautiful so he entered her into the Search for a Queen Pageant; enter Esther.

Now apparently her uncle had told Esther to keep her ethnicity and religion a secret, so Esther was very careful not to let on that she was actually Jewish and not from one of the provinces of Persia. When it came Esther's turn before the king, she found favor in his sight and he decided to make her his queen. I am leaving out a lot of interesting stuff, but he thought she was beautiful. She had also won the favor of trusted advisors to the king for being a woman of integrity and honor; she was not only the beauty Queen, she was Miss congeniality too.

Then we have part of the story where Mordecai overhears some of the King's men plotting to kill the King himself. Mordecai tells Esther and she tells the King and all is restored to order. At this point, we also see a new, less than integrous character, Haman. This man is a guy who is high up in the ranks of the King's men and he is power hungry. Haman is a lot like the power-hungry people we deal with in life who do not mind manipulating the innocent or stepping over someone they deem "beneath" them to get ahead in the world. What is interesting is that Haman held this position of power for quite a while, probably years, earning higher and higher ranks in the kingdom despite his lack of integrity. At one point he became so self-absorbed and focused on power that he wanted everyone else in the kingdom to bow down to him.

Now if you caught onto much, you should have noticed that Mordecai was not an outspoken Jew or one that most would recognize as Jewish; he was able to hide his heritage well. However, when Haman came by, Mordecai refused to bow to him and that refusal infuriated Haman. Haman was the one in power; Mordecai was the one doing what was right. There could and would be dire consequences for such a refusal.

By this time, Haman was like the Prime Minister of Persia and he demanded respect. Mordecai explained his religious views and why he would not bow down to Haman, but that did not appease him in the least. So Haman went to the King and requested that he be allowed to create a national "holiday" of sorts on which every Jew - man, woman and child- would be slaughtered in every province of Persia and the king agreed. Not only that, but Haman built a gigantic gallow in front of his house so he could specifically hang Mordecai there on public display.

So often we are faced with dealing with people who are so self-absorbed that if we do not "bow" to their wishes, they will build a "gallow" on which to hang us! Do we stand steadfast and do what we know is right? Especially when we are a nobody in the "kingdom" or so it seems and this person is like the Prime Minister? I think if we are honest, we find ourselves in this kind of position quite often. Sometimes it is in work, sometimes with friend groups where one is the leader and sometimes even within our families. We are in a fallen world dealing with fallen people. Unfortunately, sometimes we may even be the one guilty of being Haman.  

And then what? Do we crater to the pressure of that person who is intimidating and in a position of authority over us even though we know God has called us to respond differently? Do we even consider how God has called us to respond in the first place? Do we allow fear or faith to dictate our reactions? 
Do we justify our "bowing" with the thoughts of: "I need this job to survive." or " They have been my best friend for so long; what if they get angry and walk away?" and " But they are an authority figure that I must follow." or " I can't bring religion into this." 

And if we do, what does that say about our faith? Do we believe God when His word says He will supply our every need? Do we truly understand that we are more precious to our Lord than any other creation? Do we hold to the promise that God will uphold those who are righteous and who follow His Word?  I think often these times are in our life to test us to see if we truly do put God first, or if we have an idol somewhere that we do not even realize. If we are clinging tightly to a job or a position, or a relationship instead of holding steadfast to Him and His Word. 

So how did Mordecai and Esther handle the situation? The Jews, their family and their people, were about to be slaughtered because of Haman and his position. Mordecai went to Esther and instructed her to go to the King and ask him to save her people. This isn't like just asking your husband for help with something, back then, if the King did not call for you, no matter who you were, you could be instantly killed for daring to approach the throne. Esther's only hope was for the King to motion that she was allowed to come to him. She was terrified and said as much to her uncle and her lies one of my favorite verses in the Bible: 

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" 

Esther 4:14

You see, Esther could choose to remain silent and not risk her life for her people; play it safe so to speak. She likely would not have been killed as she was the Queen and very few people knew she was Jewish (including the King). However, Mordecai points out, 'deliverance will arise from another place...' He knew that God would deliver the Jews from this terrible fate. He knew that he and Esther were called to act, despite the risk. He also knew that even if they chose to not follow the call of God, someone else would. God's deliverance of the Jews would still happen, but they would perish in the process. (this could be a physical death or a spiritual death) So after days of fasting and prayer, Esther took a deep breath and did what she knew was right. She let faith lead and conquer her fear. This was the pivotal moment for Esther's faithwalk and became the instance that changed her future, Mordecai's future and the future of so many others. All because she did the right thing; the God thing. 

Because Esther had the courage to conquer her fear with faith in her Lord, she was used by God to do an amazing thing! He was glorified not only by her actions, but by the outcome and a King's heart was softened towards the Jews, God's Chosen People. The King allowed her to approach him and in the process of a few days, Esther was able to convince the king to counteract Haman's directive, thus saving the Jews. In the process, Mordecai was celebrated and brought into the palace and Haman was hung on his own gallows. How is that for a dynamic ending? (You really should read it for yourself! I am leaving out some very interesting details for the sake of time.)

Not to long ago, someone I love deeply was struggling with what God was asking them to do and an intense feeling of inadequacy. They were talking through it all with me and listing all the ways they did not "measure up" and the reasons that they were not the right person for the job, so to speak. I remember looking at them and out of my mouth came these words (completely from God, not from me): "You know, God can do more even with your failure if you try than He can ever do if you don't try at all." That was all I said. Trust me, it was God speaking, and it was not easy for this person to hear. 

I think that is kind of what Mordecai was saying to Esther when he said , "...who knows, but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" He didn't say it, but even if she had failed, God could have turned that around. I think the point is that we should have faith that God THROUGH us will not fail! Usually our biggest fear is of failure or messing it all up. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking! The real failure is not in being imperfect, but in not being willing and obedient. We can't control being imperfect; we are all imperfect. We do however have complete control over being obedient and willing to do what God asks of us. It is a choice; ours alone to decide to conquer our fear of imperfection with our faith in the Perfect One.

What is God asking you to do that you have been putting off? Or maybe you flat out refused? Do you feel inadequate? GOOD! God uses the inadequate!! If we were capable on our own, how would that bring Him glory? Why would we need Him? It is the willing and equipped, yet inadequate and ordinary that He wants to use for the most extraordinary and amazing things to further His Kingdom! I don't know about you, but I want to be used by God! I don't want to miss out on that opportunity! Because if I say no to Him, have no doubt-He will accomplish His goals without me and I will be left without that blessing and growth and the consequences of my rejection. 


So whether it is standing in the face of power and still doing what you know God wants you to do despite your fears of rejection or retaliation OR if it is stepping out in faith doing something that you feel completely inadequate to do, be an Esther! Go all in! Pray and fast first if you are that nervous and unsure, but have faith that your God, the same God as in this story, is not a god of failure, but a glorious God who wants to use you for His kingdom. Let your actions point towards Him in such a way that you don't even have to mention His name; people just know. 



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Not in this place; Not for this reason




What in the world is happening? I am so confused and upset and angry all at the same time. How could my mentor, the one person who believed in me when no one else did, just allow himself to be murdered like that? All he had to do was say what they wanted to hear. I think he could have saved himself at any time and yet he was just quiet. This friend of mine, Joshua, who talked all the time - was just silent. He let this happen! How could he? Wasn't it just a week ago that he was everyone's hero? We had that parade and the confetti rained down on our heads as we smiled and waved to everyone! I mean, it was amazing! Was that really just a week ago? It seems like so long now.

Why do I have to be the one that goes and takes care of things now? All his closest friends ran from those mobsters afraid they would be next. I guess a simple young woman isn't much of a threat. Let's hope the mob has some sort of rule about killing innocent women... although I can't imagine that they do considering they just murdered an innocent man. Well, I am not going to go by myself. Surely my friend Marie will go with me. I mean I know it was scary, but it has been a couple of days, so hopefully things have settled down out there.

I just don't think it is fair that I have to go and take care of his body, but no one else has volunteered, and I refuse to allow it to go undone. I can't believe all of this. I just can't even swallow it all. How? Why? What in the world just happened? What am I supposed to do now? Who will be there for me? I have never felt so abandoned, and it just stirs an anger so deep within that I feel like I am going to explode. Then as suddenly as it comes, the anger turns to heartbreak and those tears I've been holding back pour out like a spillway. I can't even think straight, so maybe it is best I focus on the job I must do and not the meaning behind it. He's gone. I've got to figure out a way to accept that. I've got to move on with my life, but not without honoring him first. Joshua loved me unconditionally, so it is the least I can do.

Okay, so let me gather the supplies I have and head over to Marie's house. I am exhausted. Lack of sleep and having to walk everywhere added to the crazy few days we have had have taken their toll on me. I think the last time I ate was the day we had that big party and cooked for all of them. That was so much fun and relaxing. I love to prepare meals for my friends and see them enjoy my food. That was when they were all together in one place and in one spirit. It was such an amazing night. Marie and I stayed in the back, so we didn't disturb them and ate our small portions. We talked about the parade and all the people we saw and how perfect it all was with the streets lined with friendly faces and people who also loved Joshua as much as we did. We heard the guys in the other room with their friendly banter and competetive conversations, mixed with a word from Joshua that would silence them all. He had that way about him that many just did not understand. He was at once friend and teacher; mentor and leader. He could go fishing and join a feast during the day and say a few words that would change your life that evening. I loved him for all of it. Although our ages were not that far apart, he was like the father I never had, mixed with a big brother, and then he was someone who could look into my eyes and see what I felt and know exactly what needed to be said and done. I just can't believe he is gone. I am so mad that he did not put a stop to that nonsense on Friday; I know he could have stopped it if he wanted to. Why did he not want to? I have never seen him so helpless, and yet so strong at the same time. I have never felt more hopeless than I do now.

Oh, the supplies, I don't have everything here, but Marie has the rest. This walk is such a long walk to only be a short distance. I see her house through my tears. I am a mess. She opens the door for me and the tears start flowing freely again. She is crying too, as we cling to one another for support. I don't know how long we have been standing there, but we finally got it together. Marie gets her supplies and we pick up all the ones that I dropped when we embraced. We steel ourselves for the long walk to take care of the body and say a quick prayer that we won't be slaughtered since everyone knows Joshua was one of our closest friends.

The walk is silent. Neither of us can even form words around our thoughts at the moment. We've lost others close to us before, but it has never been so unimaginably violent. Usually when Marie and I are together we love to sing and laugh and talk, but not so much today. Just silence. I can hear my own breathing in time with our footsteps. I am trying to not think about what we are going to do; why we are walking this path that we have walked before, but never like this.

As we get near, I can't seem to stop the tears, so they slowly roll down my cheeks. I look over at my best friend and her face mirrors how I am feeling. We are tormented with this task and neither of us wants to be here;in this place, at this time, for this reason. Why does it have to be us? But, we both also do not want it to be anyone else. If we do it, at least I know it is done correctly. If nothing else, at least we can honor him this way. I just wish it didn't have to be me; didn't have to be us.

What in the world? Why is it already opened? Marie and I look at each other and run to the place where he is supposed to be. My heart is pumping out of my chest. Why would someone take his body before we could take care of it?  What kind of awful person wants to add to our pain by not allowing us to know where he is buried so we can visit his grave? These people are so hurtful and evil! I just do not understand it!How could they do this to us? There isn't even a guard anymore. I look over and Marie is sitting on a rock with her head in her hands sobbing. I am so confused- this is a scene that my mind just can't process.

Who is that walking out of the tomb? What is he doing here? I can't even tell if I know him through the dust and tears in my eyes. This man is glowing as though he is lit up from the heavens and he says to us, "Why are you looking for the living here in a grave for the dead? He has risen just like he told you he would." Suddenly it was as though time stopped and I was watching memories of Joshua's (we called him Jesus) words to all of us. He said he would be back in a little while; in three days he would rise. I guess I thought he meant something else, not actually rise fromt he dead! But he resurrected Jairius' daughter, and Lazarus, why had I even doubted he could raise himself? In my heartache, I had not even recalled that he had said the words!

Marie and I hugged now with a different tasting stream of tears rolling down our faces. We dropped everything we had brought and started back to tell the others and then through my tears, Joshua, my Jesus, was standing there in front of me! He said a simple "hello" that sounded like an echo of love that pierced my heart! We both fell to the ground and I clutched his feet and wept for joy! I knew it was him and yet couldn't believe my eyes! That voice was unmistakable though; Joshua, our Jesus was back! He told us to go and tell all the others and to meet him in Galilee so we hugged him close then ran ahead to tell them the beautiful news!

On the way, all I could think was how grateful I was to be the one chosen to be there, in that place at that time, for that reason. He is risen! He is risen!


   ~Mary



When I got up this morning, all I kept thinking about was how Mary probably did not want to do what she was charged with doing and yet she was given a front row seat the resurrection because she was obedient. Next time I am whining about being obedient to God's call because it does not seem right to me, I will go back and read these words. Happy Easter - He is risen! He is Lord!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Awakening

The other night I awoke with a start around 3 am, and sat up on the edge of the bed. As I was sitting there, trying to get my bearings, something slapped across my thigh, feeling heavy and cold, but unrecognizable. It took me a little while to realize it was my own arm! It was basically paralyzed. Apparently the way I had been laying had cut off the circulation to the brachial artery and my arm was completely numb from about mid-triceps down - so numb that I could not even tell I was touching my own leg! I tried to move my hand (and thought I was moving it) but it really was not responding at all. So I sat there for a few minutes, wanting a drink of water, but not sure whether to just go back to sleep and forget it or try to revive my right arm.

And then I felt it! Oh my goodness, the sharp, stinging of a million needles all at once centered around my wrist as I had moved my leg and my wrist had bumped it. Suddenly, I just wanted to hold my arm as still as possible to avoid the inevitable pain that was coming. As I sat there, needing to get up, but not wanting to move, I was faced with the decision to just wait for feeling to return to my arm, help it along to get it over with, or just hold it as still as possible and hope I could go back to sleep. I opted for the "rip the band aid off" approach.

I started using my left hand to move my right arm. (which in itself is very awkward) Oh my goodness the pain that ensued! You would think having two children, I wouldn't be such a wimp, but there is something excruciating about those moments when feeling returns to a limb that is asleep, if you know what I mean. I could literally feel the blood start pumping through my arm and as it traveled down my arm, leaving in its wake razor-sharp needle stabs of pain. I needed to get it over with, so I began shaking my arm like crazy. Good thing my husband is such a deep sleeper, because he probably would have thought I was being attacked by a squirrel or something, the way I was sitting there shaking out my arm! I shook and twisted and banged my arm against my leg or other arm all the while taking gasps of breath from the crazy shooting pains.

It had to be at least 15 minutes of lots of pain and writhing before it finally started to subside into a dull ache.(okay, maybe it was just 5 minutes but it sure felt longer!) At that point,  I started making a fist repeatedly to get my fingers to work again by pumping blood back into them (like they do when you give blood). Gradually my hand did not seem like it was a swollen, useless mess, but felt more normal.  I sat there recovering for a minute, almost scared to move. I think I was afraid it secretly was asleep again and if I moved, it would all start over again. Eventually, I got up, grabbed a drink of water using my newly revived right hand, and headed back to bed. As I laid down, (very carefully to be sure my arm was not tucked under me this time), a thought struck me about how similar this silly event was to where I had been spiritually lately. God ever-so-gently gave me a nudge to write again for the first time in quite a while. 

You see I love God and I love getting to know all about Him. I've known Him for a long time as my personal Savior, but I am not sure I treasured the relationship for a long time. In my Spiritual walk, I have had the many ups and downs; obvious hills and valleys of life. There have been times when I have been so close to God that I felt his breath over me and there have been times that I have moved away from Him to do my own thing (always to come running back). There have even been times where I longed to feel His presence but instead I just felt lost and confused and it took a while for me to find Him in the midst of the mess. But lately, for the last few months, I have just sort of been dull; not really close to Him, not really moving away from Him. I have been involved in a regular Bible study but have not really been pouring myself into it. I am still serving at my church and attending regularly, but mostly because that is just what I do; what I've always done. What I have not been is very connected to the relationship that I know is a vital part of my life. It is as though I have been asleep; maybe a bit numb, even possibly starting to be cut-off from the main artery.  I am not sure if you can relate at all, but I am hoping I am not the only one out there. I haven't been terrible or doing anything I would consider to be detrimental, but on the flip side, I have not been doing anything helpful or working toward building my relationship with Christ. 

Here is where God enlightened me to the connection. If we stay disconnected for any length of time, we become numb, almost paralyzed, to His work in our lives and the lives around us. It may not even be intentional. I did not set out to lay in such a way that my arm would fall asleep, but I did happen to be in a certain position and did not move from that spot, or wake up before it was numb. He cannot use a numb/ paralyzed Christ follower like He longs to do. He loves us and wants to be able to use us for the work we are designed to do, therefore He must "wake" us up! 

Trust me, an awakening is not always pleasant! In fact it is often full of sharp pains and stabs of conviction. He will use circumstances, people or whatever is around us to make staying still in our paralyzed state more painful and uncomfortable than the alternative; He wants it to be impossible for us to stay in that numb state.  Sometimes, God will even shake us violently and what seems to be uncontrollably in order to get the blood flowing again...the saving, precious blood that was given freely for our sins by His Son! 

In the midst of that awakening, I can honestly say I have wanted to cry out in pain. There have been times that I felt like the twists and turns, frustrations and disappointments, were so overwhelming that I thought things would never be "normal" again. And then the awful sharp pains gave way to a dull ache as He began to clench His fist tightly around my heart to get the blood flowing again. Before I know it, all becomes right again and I am ready to be used for the work He has specially designed just for me! I just have to be careful not to "lie down" in the same way as before and become numb to His will in my life. 

That night, I knew God was telling me that I had better move myself before it got to the point that He needed to shake me awake. I smile now thinking of the image of me flopping around while God shakes the blood back into me. I know God has big plans to use me for His Kingdom. I don't know what those are, but I know I can't become dull, numb and disconnected, or I will miss opportunities to be closer to Him and to be used by Him. 

Romans 13: 
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now [g]salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. 

and 

II Corinthians 4:
 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

It is the hour for us to awaken from sleep through the power of God! I am excited to see how God uses His power to further His Kingdom and how He generously allows me to participate! All I need to do is stay "awake" and focus on my relationship with Him.

Awakened to life with Christ,
Stephanie